ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Out of Character,” the Asian Art Museum’s thoughtful exploration of Chinese calligraphy as art and writing closes on January 13, 2012; you can see it for free this Sunday

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Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo, at the opening of an exhibition of his Chinese calligraphy collection at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the U.S. since 1999. Photo: courtesy Asian Art Museum

Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, an exhibition of collector and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang’s calligraphy collection and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is a show that goes right to heart of Chinese culture and artistic practice.  The exhibition of roughly 40 significant works from Yang’s collection of roughly 250 pieces of calligraphy represents the first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the U.S. since 1999.  Curated by Dr. Michael Knight, the museum’s senior curator of Chinese art, and Dr. Joseph Chang, senior research fellow at the museum’s research Institute for Asian Art, the exhibition fills three full galleries and moves through six centuries including 15 featured works which are shown in their entirety.  As the title suggests, the emphasis is on decoding the mysteries and conventions behind calligraphy and its purpose and mastery.  The ancient practice has always been intriguing to Western audiences but has remained mysterious.  Importantly, this exhibition provides exciting and compelling evidence of calligraphy’s rich contribution to Chinese culture, something that has not been explored comprehensively and accessibly for Western audiences.  These works are on display for just two more weekends in San Francisco before the exhibition moves on to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it will be on display in 2014.

The four major formats of Chinese calligraphy— albums, handscrolls, hanging scrolls and fans—are covered amply.  Many works are on exhibition for the first time and visitors have the rare chance to see such masterpieces as the earliest dated calligraphy outside China by Dong Qichang (1555-1636).   Also on display is “Lotus Sutra,” a late 13th-to-early-14th century handscroll by the esteemed calligrapher and painter Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322).   Mengfu’s calligraphy was so influential that his standard script was chosen as the model for books printed by the early Ming court. This scroll raises a number of interesting questions.  Executed in small standard script (xiaokaishu), with a total of more than 10,000 characters, the handscroll is 10 7/8 inches high and a whopping 180 ½ inches long.  A testament to the absolute control, concentration, and endurance of the calligrapher, it is displayed and lit beautifully in a long rectangular glass cabinet in the exhibition’s fist gallery.

Mengfu’s work becomes all the more impressive when we consider that calligraphers as a general rule did not re-do or erase their work.  Each character, even hundreds in succession resulted from an energetic burst, something almost unimaginable in our era, where most of us have become so keyboard dependent that the act of handwriting has become laborious, resulting in almost illegible scrawls.  Megfu’s scroll is one of what were originally seven scrolls presenting the text of the Lotus Sutra.  Why did the calligrapher choose to reproduce one of the most influential texts in Chinese Buddhism?  Was it an exercise in devotion?  contemplation?  Who was it intended for?  Such are the mysteries surrounding this ancient art.

The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Miaofa lianhua jing), in small standard script. By Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322. Handscroll, number 3 of a set of 7, ink on paper. Loan Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. Photography by Kaz Tsuruta.

The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Miaofa lianhua jing), in small standard script. By Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322. Handscroll, number 3 of a set of 7, ink on paper. Loan Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. Photography by Kaz Tsuruta.

While calligraphy is aptly described as poetry in motion, it is much more than attractive writing. Throughout Chinese history it has been a judge of character and intelligence.  A good calligrapher was associated with scholarship (so highly esteemed in Chinese culture), sensibility, discipline and good taste. The study of important works of the past is a fundamental element of Chinese calligraphy.  Rote immersion and repetition are key in the early learning phases while mastery, never fully attained, is a lifelong practice.  Curator Dr. Michael Knight related the story of the famous calligrapher Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) who apparently sat for an important annual examination and was ranked third by his master due his characters.  This prompted him to copy out the Thousand Character Classic ten times every day for a total of 10,000 characters daily.  The effort was not in vain as Wen emerged among the very best calligraphers of the Ming dynasty.

One of the dramatic aspects of this exhibition is the extent to which the curators went to give it a modern sensibility.  In the second gallery, devoted to 15 featured works that exemplify importance and visual impact, an entire curved wall has been used to display all 85 pages of a single album.  Each page is displayed separately and eloquently, forming a dynamic wall of letters with a crisp and contemporary graphic appeal.  It’s almost impossible to stand before this and not be dazzled by the power of the ink and these dancing letters.

Many of the calligraphers represented have not only produced aesthetically beautiful and impressive scripts, the content itself is often eloquent poetry, well-known masterpieces from the past or those composed by the calligrapher, some of whom were famous as poets. There are many wall boards with moving translations such as Huang Daozhou’s (1585-1646) poem dedicated to Wen Zhenmeng,  which captures a timeless sense of longing—

It’s not that I am not satisfied pounding other people’s grain; I just can’t stop pitying the unraveled weft.  My far-reaching aspirations sink with the white clouds; my person, at leisure, draws close to birds that soar.  I’ve stolen my bit of shade, and feel my life secure; Just based on this, I smell a solitary fragrance.  Who really remembers the time of metal-shift. Message all empty—I pray to old Heaven above.  (Huang Daozhou, 明朝 黃道周 行草詩軸 絹本, Poems dedicated to Wen Zhenmeng in semicursive/cursive script, hanging scroll; ink on silk)

While a large portion of the exhibition is devoted to exploring the complex set of conventions and rules of calligraphy, it also attempts to show linkages with contemporary art, something that intrigued Abstract Expressionists, who essentially created adaptations of the calligraphic gesture.  A number of modern works borrowed from SFMOMA by artists Mark Tobay, Franz Kline and Brice Marden are displayed.  And while this is a small section, it successfully links calligraphy as a highly expressive form of writing form with abstraction as the expression of the self through brush and ink.

Finally, the show closes with a bow to the contemporary—acclaimed Chinese artist and 1999 MacArthur Fellow, Xu Bing’s “The Character of Characters,” a 20 minute animated response to calligraphy’s long-standing traditions.  The film runs continuously in wide-screen, black and white format on three horizontal monitors in the museum’s expansive North Court.  Xu Bing’s  creative process itself speaks to the discipline so essential in calligraphy.  Xu Bing, worked daily for well over a month with13 dedicated assistants—racking up over 5,000 man hours—and roughly 50 drafts and more than 1,000 hand drawn sketches before he was satisfied with the result.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jay Xu, AAM’s director, during the annual press luncheon following Out of Character’s opening.  He related that, as a child, he too was made to sit and practice calligraphy and had little interest pursuing it.  As an adult though, particularly when he is feeling tense, immersing himself in calligraphy is a “stress-buster” and he now finds it “quite enjoyable.” “Calligraphy has been remote and mysterious to many people,” said Hu.  “This is an art, a practice, that encompasses all of Chinese culture and it’s time to decode it.”

Docent tours for Out of Character:  45 minute walk-through, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, free with museum admission.  Meet at information desk, ground floor.

This Sunday: The Asian offers free yoga!  How do we use works of art to connect with ourselves and others?  Explore this idea as you move with yogi Lorna Reed as she leads a group session in meditation and a Hatha flow practice, using artworks in the museum collection to understand the historical and cultural significance of yoga throughout Asia.  Each session will delve into healthy practices that balance energy, align your body, and help you relax.  Each class ends with a standing meditation in the galleries.  (Part of the Target First Free Sunday Program, Sunday, January 6, 2013, 2-3 p.m., check at information desk for location)

Details: Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy closes Sunday January 13, 2013.  The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza), San Francisco.  Hours:  Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission: $8-$12, free first Sunday of each month.  Parking:  The Asian Art Museum does not have a parking facility, but it is served by the following parking facilities—all within walking distance of the museum: Civic Center Plaza Garage is the closest and most reasonably priced has 840 spaces.  From Van Ness, turn left on McAllister. Entrance is on McAllister, between Polk and Larkin Streets. Info:  begin_of_the_skype_highlighting www.asianart.org.

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January 4, 2013 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Constellation,” a world premiere collaboration between artist Jim Campbell and choreographer Alonzo King celebrates LINES Ballet’s 30th Season

Jim Campbell. “Exploded Views” 2011; 2880 LEDs, custom electronics. Choreography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco and New York. Photo: courtesy SFMOMA

If you saw one of San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell’s “Exploded Views” installations in the atrium of SFMOMA this past year, chances are you couldn’t forget it.  SFMOMA’s Hass Auditorium came alive as thousands of flickering LED spheres hanging from the ceiling, created the illusion of fleeting shadowlike figures that dissolved and resolved as one moved around and beneath the suspended, chandelier-like matrix. Part sculpture, part cinematic screen, the low resolution pieces flirted with the line between representation and abstraction and sucked viewers right into
another world, one where imagination and memory fill in the gaps between what you see and what you think you see to create a complete story.  The first film in this series of 4 was a collaboration with Alonzo King’s celebrated LINES Ballet of San Francisco, and, if you positioned yourself on SFMOMA’s second floor landing, you could see magical low res images of King’s dancers moving across the expanse of air and light.  Cinematic, elegant, unforgettable.

Now, the two artists are collaborating again as the exciting kick-off of Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s 30th anniversary year.  Campbell’s new installation created for the world premiere of “Constellation” is a 20 x 36 foot low res moving image that incorporates a thousand little LED globes hanging in strings like pearls suspended from the light-grid of the LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  The dancers constantly move through these strands and interact with the LED balls which serve as pixels for the large images on the screen in the background and a smaller screen in the foreground.  The smaller screen, 9 x 12 feet, moves up and down.  At times, it is at the level of the dancers and, at times, suspended 10 feet off the ground, above them.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet celebrates its 30th Season with “Constellation,” a collaboration between artist Jim Campbell and choreographer Alonzo King. Campbell and King appear in a pre-performance conversation about their collaboration on October 24, 2012. Image courtesy: LINES Ballet

“I was very interested in having the dancers play with and manipulate a physical image,” said Campbell. “It was more about them becoming a part of the images and playing with that boundary.  There are times when the nine dancers have part of the image in their hands because they are carrying the balls in their hands.”

Adding to the performance, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani will sing music of Handel, Richard Strauss, and Vivaldi.

Pre-Performance Balcony Talk:  Tomorrow evening (Wednesday, October 24, 2012) prior to the performance, an exclusive conversation in the balcony will take place between artist Jim Campbell and Alonzo King, followed by a Q & A, where audience members will have a chance to ask these two artists about their collaboration.

Stay-tuned to ARThound for an interview with Jim Campbell about this exciting new installation and his collaboration with Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

Details: Performances are Wed | Oct 24 | 7:30pm —Pre-Performance Balcony Talk with Alonzo King and Jim Campbell (6:30pm)

Thu | Oct 25 | 7:30 pm;   Fri | Oct 26 | 8 pm;   Sat | Oct 27 | 8 pm;   and Sun | Oct 28 | 5 pm.

LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is located at 700 Howard Street, at Third Street, San Francisco

General Admission tickets-$65, $55, $40, $30; Student Tickets – $20 – Limited number of student tickets for Oct 24 (ID required.)   To purchase tickets online, click here.

 

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Art, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Closing Monday: “Cindy Sherman” at SFMOMA, the most comprehensive U.S. exhibition of her groundbreaking work in 15 years and the only stop on the West Coast

An 18 foot tall photographic mural marks the entrance to the exhibition “Cindy Sherman,” at SFMOMA. Instead of relying solely on her signature use of makeup and prosthetics, Sherman used Photoshop to alter her image for the various personas on the mural. The exhibition features 155 of her works and closes Monday, October 8, 2012.

Entering SFMOMA’S 3rd floor Cindy Sherman exhibition, viewers are first greeted by a colossal photo mural featuring several different 18-foot figures from daily life chameleon Cindy Sherman has taken on.  Ranging from what might be woman in a dance class, to a society woman in a red brocade housedress, to a blonde babushka gardener sporting a country-fair medal and cradling a bunch on freshly-picked baby leeks, to a showgirl in a feathered leotard, the women don’t fit into any pat category but hint at the multiple and varied roles contemporary women play.

Sherman created the floor-to-ceiling mural specifically for her travelling retrospective, which first opened in New York at MOMA in February (2012) and will close its run at SFMOMA on Monday, October 8, 2012.   Sherman helped install the SFMOMA show herself and tweaked the mural especially for the Bay Area, using different characters than those included in New York.  The mural shows how her work has changed with evolving digital technology and the magic of image editing.  Instead of the elaborate stage make-up and prostheses that made her famous—seminal examples are on display in the interior galleries—she has now embraced Photoshop.  The mural itself is printed on several gigantic sheets of a special type of contact paper.

One of Sherman’s most recent works, “Untitled #512” (2011), is a 6 x11 foot chromogenic c-print, depicting the artist in feathery white Chanel couture against a harsh and rocky Icelandic seascape. The melancholic setting was digitally inserted behind Sherman’s figure and embellished with expressive faux-brushstrokes.

The 155 images on display through Monday constitute the largest collection of Sherman’s work ever exhibited on the West Coast, and this is the only West Coast showing of the retrospective, which moves to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (November 10-February 17, 2013), and then to the Dallas Museum of Art (March 17-June 9, 2013).

Untitled Film Stills: The exhibition includes a complete set of her seminal Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), perhaps her most well-known and recognizable works. Organized and hung per Sherman’s instructions after she visited SFMOMA, these 70 black-and-white photographs, roughly 8 x 10 inches each, are presented in tightly stacked rows that completely fill a small interior gallery’s walls.   The subject: movie roles for women influenced by 1950s and ’60s film noir, big-budget Hollywood and European art house films.  In each of these photographs, resembling back lot movie stills, Sherman plays an archetype—not an actual person, nor a replication of a scene from an actual movie—but a self-fabricated fictional character in a setting that clicks into our collective subconscious as “the housewife,” “the prostitute,” “the woman in distress,” “the woman in tears,” etc.  Sherman doesn’t title any of her works, a decision which invites the viewer to freely associate.  These recycled tropes, which reverberate off of each other, evoke any number of reactions but most certainly…how does she do it, and by “it,” I mean the dropping of one persona and complete embodiment of another?

Sherman uses herself as a model wearing Balenciaga in 2007, just one of a series of collaborations with the revered design house. Sherman has also worked with Marc Jacobs and Comme de Garcons. Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #458,” (2007-8), Chromogenic c-print, 196.5 x 148 cm, Glenstone.

Centerfolds:  All 12 of her controversial Art Forum magazine centerfolds (1981) are included.  The series takes the horizontal centerfold as its conceptual and physical framework and is comprised of 12 life-size 2 x 4 foot images, shot close-up and then cropped to appear squeezed into the frame. It depicts young women in various elaborate outfits—plaid kilts, gingham dress, wet t-shirts—provocatively posed and uncomfortably baring their disturbed souls.  While Sherman was commissioned by the influential magazine to do the series, it was rejected by editor Ingrid Sischy who thought the images might be misunderstood, and the series consequently never ran.  These images have since become some of her most widely discussed and influential work.

Society Women: Some of her strongest work appears at the end of the exhibition—a 2008 series of untitled portraits of aging society women, done in such grand scale that they are nearly life sized, intensifying the tension, vulnerability and uncertainty associated with women and issues of stature, aspiration, wealth, age, beauty, and desire.  Each portrait appears sympathetically done at first glance but, upon closer inspection, becomes a subtle critique of the subject.  In “Untitled #466,” Sherman portrays an elegant woman wearing a shimmering turquoise caftan, with lovely jewelry, regally posed in what appears to be the courtyard of her Tuscan-style villa.  Not one hair is out of place but her exposed foot speaks volumes—it’s clad in thick support hose and pink plastic slippers of the Dollar Store type.

Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #476,” (2008), Chromogenic color-print, 214.6 x 172.7 cm), Collection of Pamela and Arthur Sanders.

“The women in this body of work are in many ways tragic,” said  says Eva Respini, Associate Curator of Photography, MOMA, who organized the show.  “Because they are presented in larger than life size, you can really see every detail and that speaks to this contemporary way of being and the fact that photography is very complicit in the way in which identity is manufactured today.”

While many may mistake Sherman’s photographs for self-portraits, these photographs only play with elements of self-portraiture and are really something quite different.  Sherman is just the model. “Everything is carefully constructed,” says Respini. “These are really all about identity—an exploration of multiple identities.  She was her own model because it was convenient.”

The exhibition also includes selections from her major series: “Fairy Tale/Mythology” (1985), “History Portraits” (1988-90), “Sex Pictures” (1992), “Head Shots” (2000), “Clowns” (2002-04), “Fashion” (1983-84, 1993-94, 2007-08).

A fully illustrated catalogue, Cindy Sherman, accompanies the exhibition, with essays by exhibition curator Eva Respini and art historian Johann Burton, as well as a new interview with Sherman conducted by filmmaker and artist John Waters.  The local curator is Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/08/19/4733209/sfmoma-exhibits-cindy-shermans.html#storylink=cpy

Details: Cindy Sherman runs through Monday, October 8, 2012.  SFMOMA is located at 151 Third St. (between Mission and Howard), San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Admission: SFMOMA members are free.  Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.

 

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA acquires Robert Arneson’s controversial George Moscone Bust, on view now at SFMOMA

Robert Arneson, Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, glazed ceramic, 94 x 31.5 x 31.5 inches. SFMOMA purchase through Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, acquisition made in memory of Jay Cooper. © Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: courtesy Estate of Robert Arneson

A vital and once-controversial piece of San Francisco history has finally come home. On Friday, SFMOMA announced that it had acquired artist Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, a large-scale commemorative bust of former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that incited great controversy when first commissioned and unveiled by the city more than 30 years ago. The famous bust was originally commissioned by The San Francisco Arts Commission as a public artwork for the Moscone Center in 1981. Portrait of George was to be the centerpiece of the Moscone Center, however, it was rejected due to controversial references to the 1978 assassinations of the Mayor and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George not only marks an important moment in San Francisco’s history, but it also marks a turning point in Robert Arneson’s artistic trajectory.  After the rejection of Portrait of George, Arneson took a more critical, political direction in his work and he went on to create some of the most powerful expression of his career.  The bust went on view at SFMOMA on Friday, June 1, as part of an entire gallery devoted to Arneson’s work.

“Since becoming director at the museum in 2002, I have sought to acquire this important sculpture for San Francisco,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who organized the exhibition Robert Arneson: A Retrospective in 1986 during his tenure as curator at the Des Moines Art Center and who has a longstanding commitment to supporting the artist’s work. “I could not be more pleased to finally share this cultural icon with the public and ensure its safekeeping in SFMOMA’s collection.”

Portrait of George (Moscone) was purchased for an undisclosed price through SFMOMA’s Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions; it comes from a private collection, in coordination with the artist’s estate, which is represented by George Adams Gallery in New York and Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco.

Complex History and Provocative Pedestal:  Robert Arneson took an unusual approach to the commemorative public sculpture by creating a portrait bust of Mayor Moscone that was not a straightforward likeness but the blend of caricature and portraiture consistent with Arneson’s signature style.  Early sketches of the proposed work were well received.  When the finished sculpture was unveiled at the Moscone Center inauguration on December 2, 1981, it struck a nerve with the public and its bold 58 inch tall pedestal, with its graffiti-like scrawls and 5 bullet holes, became a huge subject of controversy.

Arneson conceived the pedestal as part of the sculpture.  As the piece developed, he decided that rather than leaving it a neutral supporting element, it should come alive with words and images chronicling Moscone’s life.  Biographical references (“Hastings Law School” and “State Senate”) and some of Moscone’s favorite expressions (“Trust me on this one.” and “Are you having any fun?”) were unobjectionable.  Other inscriptions specific to events surrounding his assassination provoked controversy, such as references to Dan White’s murder weapon (“Smith and Wesson”), the dual slaying of the city’s first openly gay official (“Harvey Milk, too!” and “gay”), and White’s famous defense plea based on his penchant for binging on junk food (“Twinkies”), as well as “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG” and depictions of blood-stained bullets.

By incorporating these elements Arneson had enriched the work to become more than just a personal memorial but a distillation of an unprecedented and intense moment in the city’s history.  The killings of two popular civic officials stunned a community that was still reeling from the Jonestown tragedy only two weeks earlier, when 900 members of the San Francisco–founded cult Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana.  Even for a city accustomed to political upheaval and violence, the deaths of Moscone and Milk were unrivaled civic blows. (Click here to read full SFMOMA press release which includes a description of  SFMOMA’s public advocacy for the artwork as then Mayor Dianne Feinstein called on the Arts Commission to reject the artwork.)

SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels tells the story of Robert Arneson’s infamous portrait of former San Francisco mayor George Moscone

Portrait of George (Moscone) joins 18 other sculptures and drawings by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection.  Other major sculptures by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection include Smorgi-Bob, the Cook (1971), California Artist (1982), Forge (1984), No Pain (1991), Chemo 1 (1992), and Chemo 2 (1992).  The collection contains several major drawings, including an eight-foot-high drawing Vertical George (1981), which is directly related to Portrait of George (Moscone). SFMOMA also organized and presented Robert Arneson: Self-Reflections (1997), a major survey exhibition of Arneson’s self-portraits.

Click here for a SFMOMA interactive feature created in 2007 about Arneson’s life and work—with audio and video clips, archival photographs, and documentation of the original Moscone bust controversy. (Part of SFMOMA’s Voices and Images of California Art, a series of interactive in-depth profiles of 11 of California’s most celebrated artists.)

Rene di Rosa connection:  The late Rene di Rosa, the Napa Valley grape grower and ebullient art collector whose di Rosa museum and sculpture preserve is world-renowned, was a friend of Robert Arneson. He met Arneson at UC Davis while he studying viticulture and Arneson was teaching art classes.  At the time of Arneson’s death in 1992 at age 62 from liver cancer, di Rosa owned 39 of Arneson’s artworks and had spoken frequently about his appreciation of Arneson’s humor and incisiveness as an artist.  He had watched Arneson’s career develop over a number of years from an artist who was initially reviewed in craft magazines because he was working in ceramics to a highly respected artist whose work garnered international attention.  Arneson’s San Francisco Chronicle obituary (11.4.1992) quoted di Rosa as recalling that “Mr. Arneson felt that the controversy around the Moscone bust ‘was politicized.  In that piece, Bob was setting out to state the facts of politics in a work of art.’   The di Rosa currently has a large Arneson ceramic bust, a self-portrait, on display in its main gallery.

Details:  SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  Summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day): open daily (except Wednesdays): 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; open late Thursdays, until 8:45 p.m.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF MOMA Gallery Talk: Curator Lisa Sutcliffe on Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits, Thursday evening, April 19, 2012

Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992; 1992; chromogenic print; 66 1/8 in. x 55 11/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

One of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her psychologically probing portraits of ordinary people in states of transition.  Her Beach Portraits, a very painterly series taken between 1992-1996, in which adolescents from all over—the U.K., Croatia, Poland, Ukraine—are posed alone against a background of sea and sky brought her immediate acclaim.  More than simply documenting a transitional moment, Dijkstra reveals a heightened tension in her subjects who are delicately poised on the edge of an unknown future.  These life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of growing up.  Taken as a group, these portraits reveal fascinating cultural differences and some universal similarities and allow us to draw some profound conclusions about how people react under a watchful eye.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through May 28, 2012, is the artist’s first midcareer retrospective in the United States, bringing together 70 of her large-scale color photographs, including many of the beach portraits, and five video installations, including two new video projections.  The exhibition is coorganized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and curated locally by Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SFMOMA.  On Thursday, April 19, 2012, Lisa Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography, SFMOMA, will give a 20 minute gallery talk, sharing her perspective on one of Dijkstra’s portraits in her Beach Portraits series.  Meet in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. before moving into the galleries.  Free with museum admission.

video still from “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman),” Rineke Dijkstra, 2009
12’00” (loop), 3 channel HD video, color, sound, © Rineke Dijkstra , courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

If you go, be sure to watch her 12 minute video “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman)” (2009) which unfolds on three screens and is the first work in which she used the human voice.  Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1937), in the Tate Liverpool, was used as the talking point for a group of British schoolchildren who are filmed having a prolonged serious discussion about what they see in the painting.  To create the video, she set up three cameras on tripods and had the children look at a reproduction of the painting that was attached to the middle tripod, so none of them were looking straight into the camera lens but beyond it, at the image.   Unlike a conventional portrait in which the subject looks at the camera, the children here were engaged with each one another and thus disconnected from the viewer.  What they come up with and how they respond to each other’s remarks and begin to speculate on the woman’s emotional state and situation is truly fascinating.

Rineke Dijkstra, Almerisa, Asylum Center Leiden, Leiden, the Netherlands, March 14, 1994, 1994; chromogenic print; 49 3/16 in. x 41 5/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

Also riveting is her series “Almerisa,” (1994-2008) a study in how a subject, in this case a 6-year-old Bosnian girl in a refugee center for asylum seekers in Leiden, Netherlands, changes over time.  When Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa in 1994, she was in her best and probably only dress, and posed lifelessly, almost like a rag doll, her feet dangling because they could not touch the floor.  Concerned about what had happened to her, Dijkstra found the family after they left the center and settled into life in the Netherlands and began photographing Almerisa every two years or so, completing 11 portraits of her sitting in a chair, that also captured her maturation into a young woman.  The final portrait captures Almerisa holding her own baby.  The orthodoxy in this powerful series is one of honesty rather than beauty.  The subject’s body and character are transitioning for many reasons that invite the viewer to embark on the same type of speculation that Dijkstra asked of the school children who encountered Picasso’s powerful portrait.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is the second of three shows at SFMOMA this year focusing on Female Pioneers of Photography.  The first was Francesca Woodman, September 5, 2011-February 20, 2012.  The third is Cindy Sherman, July-October, 2012.

Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.

April 19, 2012 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday night with a captivating French drama and continues with 14 days of fabulous film

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19 – May 3, 2012, features 174 films and live events from 45 countries, 14 juried awards, and upwards of 100 participating filmmakers present.

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF55) opens this Thursday and runs for 15 days, featuring 174 films and live events from 45 countries, 14 juried awards, and upwards of 100 participating filmmakers present.   Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, the festival is well-known for its emphasis on experimental storytelling, its support of new filmmakers and for championing independent films that are unlikely to screen elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Opening night is dedicated to SFIFF executive director, Graham Leggat, who passed earlier this year.  The Thursday evening festival opener is Benoît Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen, (Les adieux à la reine) (France 2012, 99 min), a lush and captivating historical drama about the early days of the French Revolution that dovetails perfectly with March’s celebrated Bay Area screenings of Abel Gance’s silent film Napoleon.  Set in July 1789, Farewell, My Queen, covers the final 4 days at the court of Louis XVI at Versailles as seen from the perspective of palace servant Sidonie Labord (French actress Léa Seydoux), Marie Anionette’s personal reader. The film quickly rises beyond the standard historical costume drama into territories aptly explored by Jacquot—the internal world of women all at levels of society and how French royalty dealt with the very rapidly approaching societal changes at hand. Self-absorbed Marie Antionette (Diane Kruger), oblivious to politics, has an obsessive crush on Gabrielle De Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), who reciprocates just enough to keep the exquisite baubles coming.  As Sidonie aptly navigates the enormous passages of Versailles trying to secure information about what is happening, she is constantly called upon to console the desperate queen through reading, the intimacy of which spawns her own platonic infatuation with the queen.

Below are capsule reviews of the festival’s art-related line-up, which is strong this year.  Stayed tuned to ARThound for full reviews in the coming days.

ARThound’s recommendations: ART, ART, ART!

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (Mathew Akers, 2011, 105 min)  This riveting documentary tracks the prolific career and struggle of the so-called grandmother of performance art—Yugoslavian Marina Abramović— who it turns out is youthful, outspoken, glamorous, shrewd, very talented, and craves the validation of the big leagues.  The film is the perfect companion piece for Lynn Hershman Leeson’s riveting     !Women Art Revolution (2010) which screened at SFIFF54 and was a shocking visual primer for the oft-repeated statement “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”   Anyone familiar with Abramovic knows that she’s not—and never has been—well-behaved, which is a large part of her enduring intrigue.  The film’s framework is her preparation for her celebrated 2010 MOMA retrospective—Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present— and the film is the longest-duration solo work of her career.  As she brutally questions her own relevancy, we see a very serious artist at work.  Filmmaker Mathew Akers and Marina Abramović will attend. (Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 4:15 p.m. and Sat, April 28, 2012, 3:30 p.m., both at Kabuki, and Sun, April 29, 2012, 5:40 p.m., PFA.)

 

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman, 2012, 91 min)  An authentic and thorough portrait of renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei’s chronic pursuit of art, freedom of speech and human dignity using imagination, skill, and social media savvy.  Weiwei came to global prominence via Twitter after he doggedly probed the deaths of over 5,000 in the Sichian earthquake.  The Chinese government held him for 81 days in solitary detention  This riveting documentary by American journalist Alison Klayman is a persuasive portrait of the harsh underbelly of today’s China and of the union of art and politics in our increasingly networked world.  The film gives a glance to time Ai spent in New York in the 1980’s and his recent major installation at London’s Tate Modern in which he carpeted the Tate’s Turbine Hall with 100 million sunflower seeds made of porcelain (all hand-fabricated in China, of course).   The emphasis is primarily on his political activism though which keeps him in the news.  (Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 6 p.m. and Wed, Apr 25, 2012, 9:15 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

Architect, inventor and designer Buckminster Fuller, subject of Sam Green’s “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller,” playing at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19 – May 3, 2012. Photo: John Loengard/Time Life Pictures, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller (Sam Green, 2012, 60 min)  Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green presents the world premiere of his “live documentary” on Buckminster Fuller.  The piece is a follow-up to his internationally acclaimed live film Utopia in Four Movements, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.  In this new piece, Green looks at the projects Fuller proposed for the Bay Area, including a gargantuan floating tetrahedral city in the middle of the Bay, and explores his utopian vision of radical change through a “design revolution.” Green’s narration draws inspiration equally from old travelogues, the Benshi tradition, and TED talks, and will be a live collaboration with experimental indie band Yo La Tengo.  The film itself is part of a larger Green project that includes a multi-channel installation (built by Obscura Digital) on display in a concurrent exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, “The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area” (Tues, May 1, 2012, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. SFMOMA)

The Sheik and I (Caveh Zahedi, 2012, 109 min)  Commissioned by the 10th Sharjah Biennial,  a huge contemporary art event in the Persian Gulf region  to make a film on the theme of “art as a subversive act,” independent Iranian-American filmmaker Caveh Zahedi (I Am a Sex Addict (2005)) goes for it in a big way. Told that he can basically do whatever he wants except make fun of the ruler, Sheik Sultan bin Muhammad-al-Qasimi, who finances the Biennial, Zahedi decides to do just that.  He turns his camera on the Biennial itself and presses every culturally sensitive button he can find which is a big no-no in the most conservative Islamic state of the seven that make up the United Arab Emirates.  His antics fail to amuse.  Zahedi’s film is banned for blasphemy and he is threatened with a fatwa.  (Sat, Apr 21, 9 p.m., Wed, Apr 25, 2012, 6:30 p.m., Sat. Apr 28, 9 p.m.—all at Kabuki.)

Golshifteh Farahani as Irâne (left) and Mathieu Amalric as Nasser Ali
in Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Chicken with Plums,” screening at SFIFF55. Photo by ©Patricia Khan, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) (2011, 91 min)  Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s drama based on Satrapi’s best-selling graphic novel of the same name which, in 2005, won the Prize for Best Comic Book of the year at the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival.  I’ve placed this film in the art category because it’s as riveting a portrait of an artist and all his brilliant and disturbing excesses that you’ll find.  Set in 1958 in post-Mossadegh Tehran (deftly filmed in German and France), the winding story captures the last eight days of Nasser Ali’s life.  The virtuoso tar player (a Persian string instrument) has resigned himself to die after he runs into his old love, Irâne, who does not recognize him, and then returns home to find that his wife has smashed his prized musical instrument beyond repair.  As he miserably, egocentrically and brilliantly winds down, only his daughter, Farzaneh, his memories, and his favorite dish, chicken with plums, rouse his desire.  Imaginative sets, lighting and animation all enhance the drama.  (Mon, April 30, 2012, 6:15 p.m. and Wed, May 2, 2012, 12:30 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

Gimme the Loot  (Adam Leon, 2012, 85 min)  Malcolm and Sofia, two Bronx teens, are the ultimate graffiti-artists.  When a rival gang buffs their latest masterpiece, they must hatch a plan to get revenge by tagging the iconic Home Run Apple during a Mets game, but they need to raise $500 to pull off their spectacular scheme.  Over the course of two whirlwind, sun-soaked summer days, Malcolm and Sofia travel on an epic urban adventure involving black market spray cans, calling in favors, selling pot or even committing robbery. (Fri, Apr 20, 2012, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki; Sat, Apr 21, 2012, 9:30 p.m., FSC; Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki)

The Double Steps (Los pasos dobles) (Isaki Lacuesta, 2011, 87 min)  Isaki Lacuesta, representative of a new Spanish cinema and winner of the Golden Shell in San Sebastián, tells a poetic story which unfolds in the deserts of Mali, northwest Africa, with an odd group of people in search of a bunker in a remote, undisclosed location that is covered with frescoes—a rumored Sistine Chapel.  The 20th –century French painter and writer, Francois Augiéras, supposedly left behind these frescoes but covered the bunker with sand to protect the paintings for future enlightened humans—ones who can decipher the cryptic clues to its whereabouts that he left behind.  “The best way to escape from your pursuers without leaving any trail,” says Augiéras, “is to walk backwards over your own footprints.”  In this layered tale, the fractured logic of poetry prevails over any linear reality.  The film uses two different characters to investigate the clues and mysteries that could lead to this secret artistic trove. A black African, Bokar Dembele, is cast as a soldier who imagines he is Augiéras and goes in search of the bunker. The real-life artist Miquel Barceló, who has a spent time painting in Mali, creates intriguing Rorschach-like watercolors throughout the film, which serve as another thread in the fabric of conundrums, mysteries, riddles and paradoxes, woven from the folk wisdom of the Dogon people. (Sat, Apr 21, 2 p.m., PFA, Sun, Apr 22, 2012, 3:30 p.m. and Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 6:45 p.m., both at Kabuki.)

55th S.F. International Film Festival

When:  Thursday, April 19, 2012 through Thursday, May 3, 2012

5 Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco,  S.F. Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Tickets: $11 to $13 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes.  Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.sffs.org

Special Attractions:
Opening night: Benoît Jacquot’s   Farewell, My Queen, (Les adieux à la reine) (France 2012, 99 min),  a historical drama about the French Revolution, screens Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 7 p.m., Castro.  Followed by Opening Night Party, 9:30 p.m.-1 a.m, with live music, Terra Gallery, 511 Harrison Street (at 1st), San Francisco

Film Society Awards Night Gala:  Benefitting SFFS and its Youth Education programs, the evening honors exceptional directing, acting and screenwriting—Thursday, April 26, 2012, VIP cocktail reception; 7 p.m. dinner and awards program, both at Warfield Theatre, 983 Market Street, San Francisco.  Individual Ticket starts at $625.  To book, phone Margi English at (415) 561-5049

Persistence of Vision Award: Filmmaker Barbara Kopple appears before a screening of her Oscar-winning 1976 documentary, Harlan County, USA, a vivid historic film about a Kentucky coal miners’ strike using arresting cinematography and poignant protest songs to call up the sights and sounds of underclass Appalachia in the 1970’s.  Sunday, April 22, 2012, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki.

Founders Directing Award: Kenneth Branagh appears in an onstage interview at a screening of his film Dead Again.  Friday, April 27, 2012, 7:30 p.m., Castro.

Centerpiece Presentation: Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister (USA, 2011, 90 min) features Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass.  Saturday, April 28, 2012, 7 p.m., Kabuki

Closing night: Ramona Diaz’s inspirational Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey follows the iconic band Journey on tour and tells the AMAZING story of their lead vocalist Arnel Pineda’s  rise from poverty and obscurity in the Philippines to becoming Journey’s lead singer.  This is one of the best stories you’ll ever hear about making it in the topsy-turvy music industry.  Thursday, May 3, 2012, 7 p.m., Castro Theatre.

April 17, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA’s offers a panel discussion on its fabulous “Francesca Woodman” show this evening

Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

The art of Francesca Woodman has often been seen through the lens of the powerful and distinctive agendas of the 1970s and ’80s: feminist theory, Conceptual art, photography’s relationship to both literature and performance, Postmodernism.  It has also been seen as part of the moment in history when photography fully entered the sphere of contemporary art. SFMOMA’s exhibition of Woodman’s work — the most comprehensive to date — is a chance to reassess her work and recognize the intensity of her vision. A panel of art historians joins the Francesca Woodman exhibition curator, Corey Keller  (SFMOMA’s associate curator of photography) to discuss the impact and meaning of Woodman’s photography today.

Corey Keller, associate curator of photography, SFMOMA  

Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history, UC Berkeley
Amy Lyford, professor of art history and the visual arts, Occidental College
Peggy Phelan, Ann O’Day Maples Chair in the Arts and professor of drama and English, Stanford University

Details:  Thursday, 7 PM, Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA.  Advanced ticket purchase highly recommended.  $10 general; $7 SFMOMA members, students, and seniors.  Buy tickets.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ensemble Parallèle Presents “The Great Gatsby,” a chamber opera with the swagger and pizzazz of the roaring ‘20’s─at Yerba Buena Center, February 10-12, 2012

Beautiful, haughty, seductive, manipulative, wearied, and indulged to excess….the iconic Daisy Buchanan is played by Soprano Susannah Biller, a former SF Opera Adler Fellow, in Ensemble Parallèle’s new chamber opera, "The Great Gatsby," at Yerba Buena's Novellus Theatre February 10-12, 2012. Photo: courtesy Rapt

Ensemble Parallèle is bringing what promises to be a very  inventive contemporary opera to Yerba Buena Center’s Novellus Theatre this coming Friday-Sunday (February 10-12, 2012):  the world premiere of Jacques Desjardins’ chamber orchestration of composer John Harbison’sThe Great Gatsby.”   Based on the beloved 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate James Levine’s 25th anniversary as its musical director.  It premiered in 1999, with just one subsequent performance at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, mainly because it called for an orchestra of 120 musicians.  Aware of the need to make Harbison’s important work accessible to performing groups, Ensemble Parallèle, a professional ensemble-in-residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, embraced the project and commissioned its re-orchestration from 120 to 30 musicians, keeping the rich sound of Harbison’s music─ which includes 17 original vernacular pieces─tangos, Charlestons, jazz songs─not your traditional opera to begin with.   The cast includes 11 singers─some very well known in the Bay Area and some newcomers.  This is the first time in ten years that the piece, which opened to mixed reviews at the Met, will be performed on stage and it is Ensemble Parallèle’s most ambitious project to date.  Recognizing music’s power to transform and raise consciousness, this presentation of a classic, with some story enhancements, with should be an exciting event.   If you haven’t been to an opera before, the best thing to do is literally jump in─get tickets and go!  At 2.25 minutes with one intermission, and all in English, this opera—jazzy and emotionally gripping─should be a great introduction for newcomers.   And, if you haven’t been to Yerba Buena Center’s modern Novellus Theatre for a performance, you’re in for a treat.  Unlike San Francisco Opera, these seats are much more user friendly and the site lines are exceptional. 

The cast looks fabulous.  Lyric tenor Marco Panuccio, a newcomer to the Bay Area, is Jay Gatsby.  Panuccio portrayed Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon for Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Soprano Susannah Biller, a Bay Area favorite and former SF Opera Adler Fellow, with a rich and powerful voice, who portrayed Eurydice in Ensemble Parallèle’s spring 2011 production of Philip Glass’ Orphée, is Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s fixation.  Baritone Jason Detwiler, who played St. Plan in Ensemble Parallèle’s summer 2011 production of Four Saints in Three Acts, is Nick Caraway, the opera’s narrator.  Casting also includes tenor Dan Snyder as Tom Buchanan, Disy’s husband; baritone Bojan Knezevic as the machanic George Wilson; mezzo soprano Erin Neff as his wife Myrtle Wilson and mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker as Jordan Baker.  All come together to present the gripping story—in music─of a very shallow lot of characters who make a tragic mess of their indulgent lives.  The setting is deco and the drama transpires against the colorful backdrop of the roaring ‘20’s, when American society enjoyed great prosperity, endured Prohibition and the dance music of the day was jazz. 

Gatsby marks the fourth major presentation of fully-staged contemporary chamber operas by Ensemble Parallèle’s duo–Artistic Director/Conductor Nicole Paiement and Stage Director and Production Designer Brian Staufenbiel.  Gatsby follows last year’s Orphée by Philip Glass, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in 2010 and Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar in 2007–all to acclaim from audiences and critics.  Last August, in conjunction with SFMOMA’s fabulous The Steins Collect, Ensemble Parallèle presented a critically acclaimed production of the rarely performed Four Saints in Three Acts by composer Virgil Thompson and librettist Gertrude Stein. (Read ARThound’s coverage here.)

Paiement founded Ensemble Parallèle in 1994 to perform new music and to collaborate with various artists such as dancers, choreographers, and visual and multimedia artists— as the Ensemble’s name suggests, in parallel.  These collaborations have allowed Ensemble Parallèle to reach a wider-ranging and younger audience.  In 2007 Ensemble Parallèle began to focus exclusively on contemporary chamber opera, producing works with vitality, edge, and appeal, so important in world of opera.

Gatsby Insights at 7:15 PM, prior to each performance

Run-time: 2.25 hours with one intermission

Sung in English/English Supertitles

Details:  All performances are held at Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, 94103

Friday, February 10, 2012
 – 8:00 PM
Saturday, February 11, 2012 – 8:00 PM
Sunday, February 12, 2012 – 
2:00 PM

Tickets are $35 to $85 and are on sale at the YBCA Box Office.  Call 415-978-2787 or order online at: 
 http://tickets.ybca.org/single/psDetail.aspx?psn=14309

A Fitzgerald gem to ponder:  

I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.

It was seven o’clock when we got into the coupe with him and started for Long Island. Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.  But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age.  As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight. (Nick,  The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7, pp 307-309)

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s new “Don Giovanni” lacks that vital spark, runs through November 10, 2011

Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, plays Don Giovanni in San Francisco Opera’s new production of the Mozart classic. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Of all Mozart’s operas, Don Giovanni, holds a special place.  A fusion of tragic and comic impulses based on the legendary scoundrel Don Juan and set to breathtakingly gorgeous music, it never fails to entertain.  A new production of this masterpiece opened at San Francisco Opera last Saturday (October 15, 2011) and while enjoyable enough, it failed to ignite the passions.  Inconsistent singing and unconvincing acting were the main culprits.  The production is hinged on the all important title role filled by baritone Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow, with a rich and glorious voice who has delivered several stunning performances at SF Opera.  He was vocally adequate but lacked the commanding presence─charisma, swagger and roguishness ─ to be utterly beguiling and magnetizing, which is essential to the rake’s part.  His chemistry with the ladies─Ellie Dehn as Donna Anna, Serena Farnocchia as Donna Elvira and Kate Lindsey as Zerlina─was plain flat, both when he was required to be sexy or violent.  He played Don straight, as a cold-hearted jerk, and wore aviator-style sunglasses throughout the performance and a stylish dark leather coat which gave the impression that, while he had wealth and power, he was basically a rich coward in hiding.  

Music director Nicola Luisotti, by contrast, was the life of the party, bursting with energy and passion and thoroughly engaged with his orchestra at all times.  As magnetizing as he was to watch though, he was not able to elicit the nuanced performance he pulled from his orchestra in Turandot, which opened SF Opera’s fall season.  At times on Saturday, the orchestra outpaced the singers.  For those who have been watching Maestro Nicola Luisottiwork his magic since he joined SF Opera as its music director in 2009, the choice of three Italians, who all have their U.S. debuts─director Gabriele Lavia, set designer Alessandro Camera, and costume designer Andrea Viotti─ seems evidence of his broadening influence at San Francisco Opera.   Despite his reputation in Italy as an acclaimed film

Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design for SF Opera’s new production of “Don Giovanni” features 22 large 300 pound mirrors in ornate gilded frames that descend dramatically onto a stage that is virtually empty. Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira) in Act I. Photo by Cory Weaver.

director, Mr. Lavia’s production was not a particularly imaginative or fluid take on this musical masterpiece.  He placed the story in traditional period setting and there it decidedly sat with Don Giovanni as a brute. Andrea Viotti’s lush period costumes were executed in restrained hues with the exception of Don Giovanni, who wore a long leather coat and sunglasses.   

Most striking was Alessandro Cameo’s minimalistic set design.  As the opera opened, 22 large (6’ wide x 16’ tall) dark mirrors in ornate gilded frames descended dramatically onto a stage that was virtually empty stage, save for a few scattered Louis XV style chairs.  Coming fresh from Richard Serra’s drawing retrospectiveat SFMOMA, I was struck by how powerfully and elegantly geometric forms can define space.  As these mirrors descended, shifted, and settled in at different heights, they impacted the viewer’s sense of

In “Don Giovanni,” Lucas Meachem plays the lecherous Don Giovanni who tries to woo Zerlina, (Kate Lindsey) who is celebrating her wedding with Masetto. Photo by Cory Weaver.

mass and gravity, ushering in a dark and ominous presence, and making for an experience that was as visceral as it was visual.  (Click here to read about how these special polycarbonate mirrors were constructed backstage at SF Opera).  The program notes indicate that Lavia’s symbolic take on the mirrors–reflecting on the essence of man and witnessing his many sides.  That said, the initial brilliance of this grand entrance of the mirrors wore thin when it was repeated in the same fashion a few more times in subsequent acts. Aside from the mirrors, the stage remained quite empty, save for tombstones and mist in the cemetery scene and an elegantly set dinner table in the final scene where Don Giovanni’s feast is interrupted by the Commendatore who ushers his descent to Hell.  

Stand-outs: Italian bass Marco Vinco, making his United States debut as Leporello, Don Gioivanni’s discontented servant, who is actually on stage more than any other singer, delivered a thoroughly convincing, endearing and humorous performance.  Bass Morris Robinson, also making his SF Opera debut was exceptional in the role of the Commendatore. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay, also debuting at SF Opera, as Zerlina, the young girl who catches Don Giovanni’s eye at her wedding party to Masetto, sang lyrically in her duet “Là ci darem la mano” “There we will be hand in hand “) but will be remembered for the way she suggestively spread her legs on stage.    

The epilogue was cut in this Luisotti-selected mix of Vienna and Prague versions of the opera.  All told, it is Mozart’s music that shines most in this production. 

Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni), Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) at an uncomfortable pre-dawn dinner just before Don Giovanni’s descent to Hell, Act II of “Don Giovanni” at SF Opera through November 10, 2011. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Performance Dates: Sung in Italian with English supertitles, there are seven remaining performances scheduled for October 21 (8 p.m.), October 23 (2 p.m.), October 26 (7:30 p.m.), October 29 (8 p.m.), November 2 (7:30 p.m.), November 5 (2 p.m.) and November 10 (7:30 p.m.), 2011.

Bruce Lamont Lectures:  All performances will feature an informative Opera Talk by educator and chorus director, Bruce Lamott. Talks begin 55 minutes before each performance in the orchestra section of the War Memorial Opera House and are free of charge to patrons with tickets for the corresponding performance.

Details: Tickets are priced from $21 to $330 and may be purchased at www.sfopera.com or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office [301 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove Street), or by phone at (415) 864-3330]. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.

The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, San Francisco. Casting, programs, schedules, and ticket prices are subject to change.  For further information: www.sfopera.com.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA presents “Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation,” at YBCA’s Novellus Theater, August 18 through 21, 2011

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein looking over the score for Four Saints in Three Acts, ca. 1929; Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University; photo: Mabel Thérèse Bonney

Among the outtakes from Woody Allen’s recent hit film Midnight in Paris might well have been a scene showing Gertrude Stein being asked by the obscure young American composer Virgil Thomson to create an opera libretto for him.  There, in Paris in 1927, began one of America’s quirkiest creative partnerships, yielding not only the unique, wacky, and strangely moving operas Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947), but opening the floodgates for new modernist thought in music, literature, and art in America.

Stein’s typically nonlinear libretto for Four Saints, more focused on the sounds of words than on plot, is a sort of fractured fairy tale starring two 16th-century Spanish saints—the theologian Ignatius of Loyola and the mystic Teresa of Avila—and a gaggle of imaginary cohorts (St. Plan, St. Settlement, St. Plot, St. Chavez, etc.) who have visions of a heavenly mansion, enjoy a celestial picnic, and dance a tango-inflected ballet.  Thomson’s accessible music draws upon the snappy rhythms of American speech and the warm melodic shapes of American folksongs and hymns. 

On the occasion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s major exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Now 6 (BAN6), SFMOMA in association with YBCA will present a new production of Stein and Thomson’s opera. The new version, titled Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation, will play at YBCA’s Novellus Theater this Thursday, August 18, through Sunday, August 21, 2011.  The 50 minute performance will be preceded by a “A Heavenly Act” (2011), a brand new stand-alone curtain-raiser with an original score by Luciano Chessa and new video and performance elements by Kalup Linzy, inspired by a streamlined 1950s version of Thomson and Stein’s opera.  Four Saints, which follows it, will be augmented by video projections from Chessa and Linzy’s opening piece.

Four Saints is vintage Thomson/Stein, simultaneously All-American and countercultural,” said New York opera dramaturg Cori Ellison.  “Avant-garde yet sweetly ingenuous, it’s always been a magnet for the most imaginative theatre and visual artists, from Robert Wilson and Mark Morris on down.  I’d say any performance of this rare and charming opera is a must-see.”

SFMOMA in Association with YBCA Presents:  Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera Installation

An Ensemble Parallèle production

     Nicole Paiement, conductor/artistic director

     Brian Staufenbiel, director

Music by Virgil Thomson and Luciano Chessa, with libretto by Gertrude Stein

Featuring Kalup Linzy

Novellus Theater at YBCA

Preview: Thursday, August 18, 7:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20, 8 p.m.

Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m.

For tickets ($10–$85) visit ybca.org or call 415.978.2787

The Art of Four Saints in Three Acts, gallery talk

Thursday, August 18, 6:30 p.m. • Contemporary Jewish Museum, Free with museum admission

See original music, art, and ephemera connected with the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thompson collaboration Four Saints in Three Acts in a gallery talk directly preceding the preview performance of SFMOMA’s new staging of the opera at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories exhibition at Contemporary Jewish Museum, May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011:

Drawing upon a wealth of rarely seen artistic and archival materials, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories illuminates Stein’s life and pivotal role in art during the 20th century.

SFMOMA exhibition: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, through September 6, 2011

American expatriates in bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young, the Steins — writer Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah — were among the first to recognize the talents of avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Through their friendship and patronage, they helped spark an artistic revolution. This landmark exhibition draws on collections around the world to reunite the Steins’ unparalleled holdings of modern art, bringing together, for the first time in a generation, dozens of works by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others. Artworks on view include Matisse’s Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art) and Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Picasso’s famous portrait Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Yerba Buena Neighborhood Celebrates Gertrude Stein, May–September, 2011

Join the Yerba Buena neighborhood this summer in celebrating the life of writer Gertrude Stein and her influence on modern art, literature, and culture. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival will each host related programming: from art exhibitions to opera, poetry readings to salons, there’s definitely a there there. Visit  www.sfmoma.org/celebratestein   for a complete list of programs, discounts, and members-only specials throughout the neighborhood.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment